Want children to eat healthily? Show them where food comes from
I should have enjoyed watching Babe with my 5-year-old daughter. But no – every time the eponymous piglet’s japes induced another round of giggles, I chewed my knuckles over how to soften the blow when the inevitable question came: “Does that mean my yummy bacon sandwich was…Babe?!”
Now, more than ever, we are distanced from the story of how food gets to our plates. Industrialised production relies on sleight of hand on a grand scale: divert your eyes from how we made this, say the jolly adverts for chicken nuggets or faux-cheese dips, and think instead about the convenience.
Little wonder that Future Foundation research last month revealed that many children were ignorant about what they ate: 52 per cent believed that potatoes went towards the government's target to eat five pieces of fruit or veg per day; one in ten counted carrot cake towards that target. Less than 10 per cent actually ate five a day – ignorance about food is a huge health issue: it is not necessarily that children do not want to eat healthily, it may be just that they don't know what healthy food looks like.
The initial phase of a highly ambitious project to counter these grim figures has just got under way. The Eat Happy project is running the Farm to Fork programme, which in its first year aims to get one million UK children visiting ”trails” at farms, factories and supermarkets. Farmers and producers will talk about where food comes from: how cows are milked, what cheese is and how mushrooms are grown. Classes will also chat to international food suppliers through Google’s Connected Classrooms, including Costa Rican banana growers. The hope is that more knowledge will result in healthier eating choices.
Eat Happy is a Tesco project, and there are bound to be sceptics who have concerns about whether a huge supermarket chain is best-placed to throw open the lid on food production, but it is also backed by Diabetes UK and the Children’s Food Trust. And any effort to make kids eat healthier should be welcomed.
But what to say about Babe? Let’s put our squeamishness to one side and be honest with children about all our food. They may not thank us to begin with – but they’ll end up healthier.